3 Ways Churches Can Encourage Outreach in a World that Cherishes Convenience
By Aaron Wilson
Acts 17 says Paul reasoned daily with those in the Athenian marketplace.
Had he tried this today, he might have had fewer people to talk to.
Many modern consumers now avoid doing business in public when it comes to shopping for everyday needs. Instead, they gravitate to websites and shopping apps that offer easy home delivery.
Amazon recently demonstrated this trend by revealing it has exceeded 100 million Prime members—subscribers who pay extra to receive discounted pricing, streaming services, and free shipping on everything from TVs to toilet paper.
Amazon’s number of Prime subscribers now rivals the populations of most countries. With such a large footprint in the world, Amazon isn’t just changing the face of retail; it’s also affecting how people engage others in the local community.
Primed for convenience
According to Forbes, more Americans are now Prime members than aren’t. Two out of three households in your church likely pay Amazon an extra fee for the privilege of avoiding humans during everyday shopping.
Other businesses like Walmart, Kroger, and Target are following suit by offering to meet customers in the parking lot with orders submitted online. This allows people to do business with local brick-and-mortar stores without ever having to get out of their cars.
Restaurants are also cashing in on convenience. Patrons can now avoid waiting on a table or can skip the drive-through line altogether by having Uber Eats deliver menu items directly to their homes.
As such services grow in popularity, it creates a paradoxical question for the church: How do we process the contrast between a Savior who did much of His ministry in the context of crowds, and modern believers who are willing to pay extra to avoid dealing with the public?
As the church wrestles with this, here are three ways pastors can guide members to use modern technologies for commerce while still engaging their communities for the sake of evangelism.
1. Let your shopping trip be a training ground for missions
Placing an order online may save time and money, but making a trip to a physical store sometimes pays off in other ways that may help position the church for evangelism in the community.
No, members of your church aren’t likely to lead people to Christ in the checkout lines at Walmart. But by intentionally interacting with others in local settings, your members can develop many of the “soft skills” needed for effective evangelism.
Common social etiquette skills, such as looking people in the eye, smiling, and initiating small talk, are often honed in modest settings like stores and restaurants where people interact with strangers.
Encourage online shoppers at your church to plan occasional trips to physical establishments in town for the purpose of developing these skills with others in the community. And challenge your church to occasionally do this in parts of town populated by people who are different from them.
Learning how to do real life with real people in the community is a practice that models Christ, who often chose inconvenient routes and settings in order to engage the lost in His society.
2. Look for other opportunities to gather in the community
If Paul were visiting Athens today, he might expand his outreach efforts to local gyms, coffee shops, and parks.
Places where people naturally gather in community can be settings to build relationships around shared interests with the lost. Do you have readers in your church? Convince them to join a community book club. Are any of your members Mustang enthusiasts? Encourage them to partake in local car shows.
In the Gospels, people often invited Jesus into their homes only after He first engaged them in the public square. Building relationships in the community around shared interests can help offset the evangelistic handicap of people being cooped up at home as a result of online shopping.
3. If needed, prune your programs
As you encourage people in your congregation to invest in the local community, consider their schedules related to church programs and functions. It may be that some of your members are so preoccupied with church activities they have little time and energy left to invest in the community.
If that’s the case, consider pruning some programs to give breathing room for community engagement.
Church fellowship is extremely important. However, it’s easy for Christians to form bubbles with like-minded believers so that they rarely interact with the lost.
As online shopping urges more people to stay indoors, protect time in your members’ schedules for them to be intentional in getting out in the community for the sake of engaging unbelievers. And of course, set that expectation from the pulpit so members will know how to use the extra time you’ve given them.
Counteracting the drift to seclusion
As services like Amazon Prime continue to give people more reasons to stay at home and out of public settings, it will become increasingly important for churches to be intentional in how they train and mobilize members to reach the lost in their cities.
The ability to shop from home may indeed be a new commodity for businesses, but there’s no substitute for the church to be out in the community for the sake of evangelism.
AARON WILSON (@AaronBWilson26) is associate editor for Facts & Trends.